glass harvest

by Susie Applegate

The Painted Hills 5Bradford homestead house is perched up on a rise of land too small to have a name, but higher enough than the flat around that you see the house for miles. Bradley sits up on that mound like an eagle in his aerie. He is surrounded by all the cast-offs of Germaine and Wilbur County. Except for the cast-offs of the Van Bibber Twins. Everyone else hauls their garbage up to Brad’s Pit.
    The Van Bibbers don’t trust Brad even with their garbage. Vanessa and Vernon burn everything though environmental regulations clearly prohibit it. As long as I can remember, they have burned the garbage in a stone-walled incinerator, which has a chimney as high as a two-story house. Sometimes the smoke from their incinerator can be seen from town four miles away as it rises, a black column of smoke thick with toxic residue that serves to remind the good citizens of Germaine that the privileges of wealth often result in damage to someone, somewhere.
    When non-flammable solids fill the incinerator, one of the Van Bibber field hands cleans it out. It used to be that the glass, tin cans, molten chunks of plastic and other fire resistant matter of indefinable origin were buried in pits dug out of the fields and covered over with two or three feet of rocks and soil. Eventually, this trash migrated to the surface, which caused the Van Bibbers to discontinue the random burial process and begin containment. They would have started using Brad’s Pit when it opened, but as I said before, they didn’t trust Brad.
    Every Spring you can see the entire Van Bibber field crew out in the fields plucking cans and glass from the new-turned earth. They put it in bags draped around their shoulders that drag on the ground behind them like cotton sacks on a Southern plantation. And there is Vanessa out riding slowly through the field in her white Ford one-ton pickup truck like a belle on a champion Walker. The workers throw their filled sacks in the bed of the pickup and Vanessa throws new sacks out the window to them. Vernon oversees the emptying of these bags into a new deeper pit. He has put a fence around this pit and doesn’t plan to plant a crop over it. According to Thelma McCoy, Vernon has been talking about lining the pit with concrete and calls it the grave. If it fills up before he dies, he intends to pour a concrete slab over it. For now it is covered with a hinged sheet metal lid he had the hands build, which is so heavy it has to be cranked open using a pulley.
    At the end of Spring clean up, the Van Bibber Twins throw a fiesta for their field hands and their families and invite the whole county out to celebrate with them. Everyone is welcome except Bradley. They usually roast a couple of pigs and serve all kinds of preserved honeydew from pies to pickles. Honeydew being the major crop on the Van Bibber farm. Everyone else brings potluck. Most of the time it is too cold to stay outside for long. In May the wind blows constantly in the evenings. So the fiesta ends up in the big old barn.
    Brad has been toying lately with the idea of having a celebration of his own coincident with the Van Bibber event. Usually, he chooses to go on vacation during the third week of May so he doesn’t have to put up with people asking him if he’s going to the Dutch Festival, as everyone likes to call it even though there is nothing Dutch about it other than the Van Bibber name.
    I had some time to squander between leaving the Truth yesterday and when I was expected to show up at Brad’s place for dinner. I stopped and picked up a six-pack of micros from the brewery, lemons from Arratola’s and some of Mom’s cornbread from out of my freezer. I took Van Bibber Road out of town. When I drove past the Van Bibber farm, I saw the hands out in the field next to the road harvesting garbage. I pulled over and watched for awhile. I thought about the enmity between the Bradford’s and the Van Bibbers. I can’t remember exactly how it started. I often wonder if they know.
    According to everything I’ve heard and read, the families were close friends in Virginia and remained so throughout the Oregon Trail journey. In fact the Van Bibber and Bradford families have joined in marriage a number of times. This may have bound them together, but it hasn’t led to peace any more than intermarriage did for the royal families of Europe.
    The first rumble of thunder from that storm we had yesterday was enough to get me back in my car and I turned right on the gravel leg of Nancy Horne Road that runs between the Van Bibber and Bradford properties.
    I had called Brad before I left town hoping to drop by on my way home so I could interview him for my history project. I also thought Brad might have something to say about the Arlingtons and the incident at the Restin’ Easy. I’ve found that Brad knows quite a lot about what goes on in Germaine.
    The invitation to dinner took me by surprise, but Brad said a friend of his from Burns passed through on his way home from an Alaskan fishing trip and dropped a huge salmon on his table. “I need someone to help me eat this thing,” he said. You don’t have to invite me twice for fresh salmon. I told him I’d bring some lemons and cornbread.
    At the entrance to Brad’s Pit is one of Donnie Wicker’s creations. There is nothing artistic about this gate. Just pipes welded together. The dump, excuse me, the Wilbur County Sanitation & Refuse Facility is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. according to the sign hanging from the gate. The Wilbur County Commissioners might have high expectations about this “facility”, but it isn’t anything more than a garbage dump.
    When I was a kid everybody had a burning barrel in the backyard to dispose of their garbage. Anything that wouldn’t burn had to be hauled to Prineville or Burns. We made that trip once a year and so did just about everyone else in Wilbur County except some of the farmers and ranchers who had their own personal dumpsites on what they referred to as “useless” property. Sometimes this was swamp, sometimes just rocky desert. A couple of years after I left home, someone alerted the Department of Environmental Quality that people were dumping and burying garbage all over the county. The DEQ made it very clear to Wilbur County that this would not be tolerated. Nor would indiscriminate outdoor burning. Wilbur County was given an ultimatum: Create a waste management plan and implement it within five years or the DEQ would fine the county out of existence.
    The details are a little foggy to me, but from what I gather, Vernon Van Bibber hatched a scheme to get his hands on Bradford property. Apparantly, it didn’t matter to him that Lucinda Bradford (Bradley’s mother) was his cousin. I don’t think Vernon really wanted the land. He just wanted to take it away from the Bradfords. Arguing that the Bradford property was an ideal site for a landfill was actually quite reasonable given its location. The land wasn’t suitable for honeydew farming. It wasn’t good for grazing cattle. Bradford had one of the few remaining sheep operations in the county and it wasn’t sheep that supported the family. Shrewd investments in the stock market, in spite of the crash in the 1980s, kept the family out of debt. Sheep was more of a hobby and they specialized in black sheep for the high-end specialty yarn market.
    Everybody knew that Bradley wouldn’t sell to the county and that he would fight the condemnation of his property. No one expected him to offer to operate the landfill. Vernon’s dream of dumping his garbage on Bradford land dissolved when he realized that would give Bradley Bradford access to every intimate scrap. I’ve heard people say that Vernon Van Bibber wouldn’t crap in a pot if a Bradford could get his hands on it. I’m pretty sure I know what that means though I’m not sure I can explain it.

    I first learned about Brad’s Pit from one of Mom’s letters. She just happened to mention that she and Dad had made a run out to Brad’s Pit with the garbage and saw a herd of deer on the way back. She didn’t give any background about the dump, who owned it or when it opened, nothing. Typical of Mom. She seems to believe that her context is your context and nothing needs to be expounded. Not only does she expect me to know what is on her mind, she thinks she knows what’s on mine. I could go on about that, but I won’t.
    I pulled around the last winding curve, topping the rise of Bradford’s hill and settled my car into a space in front of the old Bradford farmhouse. The pits are behind the house, stretching away from it to the West. The older pits, the ones closest to the house, have been covered with soil and a few scrubby sagebrush have already taken root among the tumbleweeds, green this time of year. Even so the stink from the outer pits greeted me as soon as I got out of my car. Brad watched me from his porch rocking chair.

This entry was posted in Chapters. Bookmark the permalink.